Fresh off of a high-profile effort to limit synthetic drug use, Mayor Muriel Bowser wants to go after underage drinking as well. The mayor announced the campaign on Monday as she introduced her pick to run the Department of Behavioral Health, Dr. Tanya Royster.
“We’ve come a long way with mental health services in D.C. I still think we have a lot of work to do with this newly combined agency, and Dr. Royster brings the skills that we need,” Bowser said. As evidence, Bowser cited a 2012 Youth Risk Behavior Survey that said 22 percent of D.C. youths report alcohol use before the age of 13. The campaign, called “There’s a Reason,” will focus on kids from 13- to 18-years old.
Royster comes from Chicago with a wide array of experience. She began as a child and adolescent psychiatrist and physician in 1999, worked as an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Illinois-Chicago and most recently was the director of behavioral health for the Franciscan Physician Network.
The joint department, a 2013 combination of the Department of Mental Health and the Addiction Prevention and Recovery Administration, will now have a full-time director to handle both mental health and substance abuse issues.
“Usually one leads to the other. They’re gateways,” Royster said of alcohol and synthetic drug use. “So it’s really no separation. They all are really part of entries in troubled areas for youth and adults. We’re just going to work on it together all at the same time.”
The press conference was held at the Latin American Youth Center, which is the DBH Ward 1 and 2 Prevention Center, in front of a full crowd of youths, including Royster’s two children.
In attendance were employees of prevention centers across the city, including Partnership for Success Coordinator for Ward 3 and 4 Toussaint Tingling-Clemmons, who said the DBH has been in need of a “strong leader for some time now and government departments kind of struggle when they don’t have a director.” He noted that both synthetic drug use and alcohol use are important issues to continue to work on.
“In most cultures alcohol is used as a celebration and so people are at least exposed to it really early,” Tingling-Clemmons said. “As long as the conversations are open and honest both from DBH’s standpoint with the community and from the community to DBH, I think they’ll be fine.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery